SAINT LEO, Fla. – It had to happen sometime, and tonight just happened to be the night where everything clicked. After 60 matches of frustration against the 13th-ranked Florida Southern Moccasins, the Lions finally had one fall their way as they defeated the Mocs 3-2 (25-19, 21-25, 25-18, 22-25, 24-22) in a five-set thriller to break their slump and get a huge boost in the South Region standings.
Both teams traded the first four games before setting up the fifth-game thriller. After surrendering the set’s first point to Southern, the Lions would go on a 9-3 run to jump out to a commanding lead. Proving that no lead is safe, the Mocs then posted a 9-3 run of their own, knotting the game at 12.
And that’s where the fun began.
In the NCAA rulebook it states that the deciding set “is won when a team scores 15 points and has at least a two point advantage over the opponent” but the problem was that neither the Mocs, nor the Lions could seem to gain that two-point advantage; no matter how long the set would run.
The Mocs saw the first chance to end it in extras at 16-15, but an attack error again tied the score. Saint Leo followed with a chance of their own as another Moc attacking error put the score at 17-16 in SLU’s favor, but a Florida Southern kill would knot the score again.
A Danielle Bletso kill gave the Lions an 18-17 lead that would evaporate in the next point with another converted FSC attack. The Lions would gain the lead on the next point but a Danielle Durham kill would tie the score at 19. An attack error by Southern would give the Lions the upper hand again, but the Moccasins got lucky off of an errant SLU serve.
After facing four match-points, the visitors from Lakeland finally turned the tables on the Lions as they benefitted from a Saint Leo attack error to put Florida Southern up 21-20. Things looked bleak for the Lions at that moment as it looked as if FSC was ready to claim their 61st consecutive match victory over the Saint Leo, but a Chelsea Armer kill down the line tied it once again.
A Durham kill for the Mocs put Southern on top again at 22-21, but the Lions would respond by setting the ball up the middle in consecutive attacks to Bletso, who would blast the next two kills home to put SLU on the verge at 23-22.
After a rally that saw both teams with miracle digs to keep things going, an errant dig on the Lions’ side left setter Michelle Nogueras with one option, to jump up and dump the ball on Florida Southern’s side and hope for the kill.
Nogueras’ and the Lions’ prayers were answered as the ball dropped down in the only spot on the floor where there was no Moc player standing. As the ball hit the floor to give the Green & Gold the two-point lead, so did Nogueras, as she fell to her knees to celebrate this new feeling – a win over Florida Southern.
Sophomore Kaitlin McKenna posted 17 kills and the freshman Bletso had 14 to go along with Leah Perry’s 12 kills to lead the Lions. Nogueras had 56 assists and 17 digs to post another double-double on the season.
The Lions hit a tremendous .273 against the Mocs as Florida Southern posted 40 attack errors as they played in probably their sloppiest match of the season. Saint Leo also posted 12 blocks compared to just four for Florida Southern.